Skinny Dip is a crime novel that sits heads and shoulders above the usual fare, for its characterizations, biting and witty social satire, madcap noirish humor (sort of like the Coen Brothers) and deft writing in general. I am delighted to have discovered this author, and even more so to find out that there are many more of his books to read!
As you learn right in the beginning, Chaz Peronne, good-looking, but good-for-nothing, as well as vapid, contemptible, and greedy, dumps his wife Joey off the deck of a ship on a cruise to celebrate their second wedding anniversary. Joey can swim, but eventually she tires out. However, she lucks out by bumping into a floating bale of Jamaican pot. She hangs on until she is rescued by Mick Stranahan, a 53-year-old ex-cop who now lives on a remote island off the coast of Miami.
Once she recovers, Joey has no interest in calling the police; she wants revenge on Chaz, and Mick agrees to help her. Meanwhile, back on shore, a transplanted Norwegian detective from Minnesota, Karl Rolvaag, who likes to pretend he’s in the script of the movie Fargo, doesn’t buy Chaz’s story that his wife’s death was an accident. So Rolvaag also goes after Chaz.
And that’s not all! Chaz is also being watched by “Tool,” a humongous bodyguard sent by Red Hammernut, his corrupt boss, who worries that Chaz will become unstable and spill the beans about their depredation of the Everglades. Tool is, to me, the best character in the book: very large, very dumb, but soft-hearted, lonely, and more open to new ideas and new relationships than anyone else in the story. The person he finds to fill the holes in his life creates the best and most touching story of the book.
The noose tightens around Chaz, with a corresponding increase in zaniness in the story. I don’t think it’s purely coincidental that one of the characters loves Fargo – there are many similarities. The story wraps up in a satisfying way, with “cosmic justice” for all!
Discussion: There are several hilarious ongoing jokes in this book, from Chaz’s relationship to his male member, to Tool’s love of collecting roadside crosses, to the trials and tribulations of criminals. Hiaasen integrates them into the story so well, and in just the right proportions, that it is never tedious or repetitive, but rather delightfully entertaining. Mick Stranahan may be an “old geezer” as Joey calls him affectionally, but he is one of the most endearing as well as romantic characters I have encountered in fiction. And Rolvaag: how subtle and funny, and how lovable as well. He too has an unusual way to deal with his loneliness, and one that is also very funny.
This author not only writes books for adults, but has won the coveted Newbery Honor for his debut children’s book. He churns out those now too, as well as some non-fiction. His books get gushing reviews and now I can see why. I can’t wait to tackle more of his oeuvre!
Evaluation: This book is clever, zany, and heartwarming all at once. It’s a quick, entertaining read, and yet it is much more memorable than most in this category. Highly recommended!
Published by Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc., 2004